Capitals

NC State picked as ACC favorite at media day

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NC State picked as ACC favorite at media day

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) For the first time in nearly four decades, North Carolina State enters the season as the Atlantic Coast Conference favorite.

The Wolfpack, with four starters back from a team that reached the NCAA round of 16, earned 26 of 53 first-place votes Wednesday from media members at the league's annual ``Operation Basketball'' media day.

It is the first time N.C. State has been picked as the preseason favorite since the 1974-75 season, while it marked only the second time in 16 seasons that neither Duke nor North Carolina were picked to win the league race.

In addition, N.C. State junior C.J. Leslie was player of the year, teammate Lorenzo Brown was an all-ACC pick and guard Rodney Purvis was voted rookie of the year.

``It's new territory for our team,'' second-year coach Mark Gottfried said. ``This is unchartered waters. And we have to learn how to accept that responsibility. It's something I think our guys are in the process of doing right now. And when you start playing games, you have to understand that you're viewed differently than maybe you were a year ago, so we've got to be ready for that.''

N.C. State hadn't been picked first since the year after David Thompson helped the Wolfpack stop UCLA's run seven straight national titles on the way to program's first NCAA championship in 1974. The Wolfpack hasn't won the ACC tournament since 1987 and last won a regular-season crown in 1989.

Wednesday's vote came two days after the league coaches also picked N.C. State as the preseason favorite in their first-ever vote on an ACC finish or preseason awards.

``I feel like we have the right group of guys to go out there and handle it right,'' senior Richard Howell said. ``We practice hard every day. We don't take any drills off. That's something coach Gottfried preaches. So if we keep doing that, that'll put us in the perfect position to do what we want to do at the end of the year.''

N.C. State had been picked to finish eighth or lower in four of the past six seasons, including twice being picked to finish last. But things have changed since Gottfried's arrival, with the Wolfpack returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006 and reaching a regional semifinal before losing a tight game to eventual finalist Kansas.

N.C. State (24-12) finished with its best win total since 1988. Now Gottfried has an experienced core to go with one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

Before Wednesday, Duke or North Carolina had been picked to finish first in the preseason every year since 2004-05, when the Chris Paul-led Wake Forest squad was tabbed the favorite. N.C. State fans are hoping this year marks the beginning of standing up to those nearby rivals - the Wolfpack has lost 10 straight meetings - and making the ACC race about more than just a two-team discussion.

``They deserve the accolades that they're getting right now,'' UNC coach Roy Williams said. ``They had a great run down the stretch. I'm old enough that I remember when Duke and North Carolina State and North Carolina were all three really good teams and I think that was good for all of us. So to me, we're getting to the point back where it used to be, and I like that. I really do.''

Duke was second with 21 first-place votes and has four starters back from a team that finished second in the league before falling to 15th-seeded Lehigh in its NCAA opener.

North Carolina was third after losing NBA first-round draft picks Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller. The Tar Heels have won the ACC regular-season title and reached an NCAA regional final the past two years.

Reigning tournament champion Florida State was fourth and got the other six first-place votes.

FSU guard Michael Snaer, who joined Leslie and Brown on the preseason all-ACC team, said he wasn't worried about the focus on N.C. State, Duke and North Carolina instead of paying attention the the Seminoles following their first ACC tournament title - a run that included wins against the Blue Devils and Tar Heels.

``I don't think we sent that message obviously because people aren't thinking that we're going to be as good as we're going to be,'' Snaer said. ``Yeah, teams can have all the talent. I mean, when has that affected us? We play teams with talent all the time but our defense is still the same.''

Miami was picked fifth, followed by Maryland, Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College.

North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo and Duke's Mason Plumlee joined Leslie, Brown and Snaer on the preseason all-ACC team.

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3 stars of the game: Burakovsky's big night propels Caps to the Stanley Cup Final

3 stars of the game: Burakovsky's big night propels Caps to the Stanley Cup Final

For just the second time in franchise history, the Capitals are Eastern Conference Champions. They will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup FInal after a dominant 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Alex Ovechkin gave the Capitals the lead just 62 seconds into the game. It was a lead they would never relinquish as Braden Holtby recorded his second consecutive shutout.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final will be Monday in Las Vegas.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Andre Burakovsky: It's been a rough year for Burakovsky, but all that was erased on Wednesday with his brilliant two-goal performance to lead the Caps.

The Caps were clinging to a 1-0 lead in the second period, but the Lightning were buzzing, outshooting the Caps 8-1. They had all the momentum until Burakovsky stole a bouncing puck from Dan Girardi and fired a quick shot far-side for the beautiful goal.

Burakovsky added a second goal later in the second as John Carlson banked a pass off the boards to launch him on a breakaway. Burakovsky coolly shot it through the open five-hole of Vasilevskiy to make it 3-0.

It's incredible to think that Burakovsky had not recorded a point yet this postseason prior to Game 7, was a healthy scratch for Game 5 and was talking about seeing a sports psychologist over the summer after the morning skate for Game 6.

2. Braden Holtby: The goaltending for much of the series was Andrei Vasilevskiy who led Tampa Bay's comeback in the series with his phenomenal netminding. He was outplayed in the most important games by Holtby, however, who recorded shutouts in both Game 6 and Game 7. The last goal the Lightning scored in the series came 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5. That's 139:27 of continuous play and 60 straight saves for Holtby.

Holtby was phenomenal in Game 7 with big save after big save as the Lightning pushed to tie. His biggest save came in the second period when he denied Alex Killorn on the breakaway. The score was just 2-0 at that point.

This marks just the fifth time a goalie has recorded a shutout in Game 6 and Game 7 in a playoff series.

3. Alex Ovechkin: It took Ovechkin just 62 seconds to put the Capitals ahead and it turned out to be the goal that sent Washington to the Stanley Cup Final. How fitting for it to be Ovechkin to score the game-winner?

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Referees miss blatant boarding by Paquette on Orpik

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USA TODAY Sports

Referees miss blatant boarding by Paquette on Orpik

A rough hit to the back of Brooks Orpik left him down on the ice and slow to get up. Cedric Paquette skated back to his bench and waited for the trainer to attend to Orpik and (probably) for the referees to call his number and send him to the box.

The penalty, however, never came.

You always hear in hockey that if you can see a player's numbers, you should pull up on the hit.

What that refers to is the numbers on the back of a player's jersey. You are not allowed to hit a player directly in the back into the boards.

The official definition of boarding according to the NHL rule book is, "any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously." Hitting a player "in the numbers" is a defenseless position.

Apparently Cedric Paquette didn't know that and, unfortunately for the Capitals, neither did the referees.

Someone explain to me how this is not a boarding penalty:

Sometimes referees are put in a tough position because a player turns his back right before they take the hit, thus putting themselves in a vulnerable position to draw a penalty. That was not the case here. Orpik never turned.

When Tom Wilson hit Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in the second period, the hockey world spent the next day debating whether it was an illegal hit. There is no debate here, no grey area. Just a clear board.

And no call.

You can understand referees wanting to put away the whistles for a Game 7, but you have to call the blatant dangerous plays like this. This was a bad miss by the referees, plain and simple.

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